From Cadillacs to breasts to amber waves of grain, most Americans subscribe to the notion that bigger is always better. In Spain, however, things are noticeably different. The Spanish tapas cuisine puts a variety of refined flavors and combinations on small dishes, emphasizing quality over gargantuan portions. And among a growing number of Spanish eateries in Philadelphia, Amada at 2nd and Chestnut, doles out both small plates and small prices.

Although Amada is now on the short list of Philadelphia's most acclaimed restaurants, few outside of Old City know about the lunchtime Catalan Express. In the spirit of authentic, flavorful dishes on the cheap, the Catalan Express lunch bargain consists of a signature soup with a salad or sandwich for $12.50. For a heartier option, order the pumpkin soup with the Serrano ham and fig salad. Or try the mixed seafood soup in a spicy shellfish broth coupled with the ventresca tuna salad, topped with carrot and parsnip ribbons and truffled lemon vinaigrette.

If the sandwiches look small in size, try weighing them with your stomach instead of your eyes; Amada's hearty, cured Iberian meats are siesta-inducing.

The plethora of grilled tapas - Amada has over fifty - provides many temptations, but will add up to a hefty tab if you gorge. Much better to sample several with a friend and a pitcher of sangria for a more convivial afternoon.

From the tapas bar, the authentic chorizo ($9) emerges as the clear champion. Coated with a garlic, lemon and parsley glaze, the smoky sausage flavor lingers for a richer, more complex taste. The crab-stuffed red peppers with almonds ($12) overflow with crab meat, offering an innovative take on a common Mediterranean dish.

Of all of the culinary creations emerging from la cocina, the three-cheese platter ($15) shows just how much skill and care Amada pours into its dishes. The combination of garlic cheese in a creamy butterscotch finish leaves even the most adventuresome diner impressed.

For desert, the Chocolate Trio ($6) will put a ribbon on your meal with its super-creamy, homemade chocolate paprika ice cream.

Lunch at this Old City pillar of Barcelonan cuisine is surely your cheapest ticket to Spain this spring.


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